The vast majority of Ethics Alarms posts about bystanders are negative, so this tale from New York City—come to think of it, the vast majority of ethics posts about New York City are negative too—-is a welcome change.
Uber driver Fritz Sam, 54, was driving a passenger to LaGuardia airport when he saw flames coming from a Brooklyn brownstone. Sam stopped his car and dashed into the burning building. He beat the fire department by about five minutes, and had guided two residents into the street to safety by the time firefighters arrived.
Who is the other Ethics Hero, Jemimah Wei? She was his passenger. Sam was driving her to the airport to catch a plane, but when he turned to her and asked, “Can we stop and help?” Wei, 29, immediately replied, “Obviously!”
In Orlando on January 1, 2021, Mrs. Potato restaurant employee Flaviane Carvalho noticed that a young boy was sitting secluded from his parents and a a young girl. Carvalho said the boy was wearing a mask and hoodie as he sat at the table along with two adults and a young girl. She also noticed that he had a scratch in between in his eyebrows and wasn’t eating, even though food had been brought to the table. She asked the table if their food and drinks were all right, and when the one of the adults replied that the boy would eat his dinner at home, Carvalho said she began to think something was seriously wrong.
She did not decide to “minding her own business,” but instead decided that as a proactive and ethical member of society, this was her business. Carvalho stood behind the boy’s parents and held up a note asking the boy if he was OK. When the 11-year-old shook his head, she wrote a second note asking, “Do you need help?” This time, the boy nodded yes. Carvalho called her boss and then called 911.
Police arrived and questioned the child, who told detectives he had suffered abuse at the hands of his stepfather, identified as Timothy Lee Wilson II. Wilson was arrested at the restaurant, and the boy’s mother, Kristen Swann, was taken into custody on later that week after the boy made additional disclosures of alleged abuse.
This post was supposed to go up yesterday, May 29, but as has happened too often in recent months, the vicissitudes of existence got in the way of Ethics Alarms. May 29 is the anniversary of the epic moment when, at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa of Nepal, become the first explorers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. At 29,035 feet above sea level, the peak of Everest is the highest point on earth. Hillary and his Sherpa guide were part of a British expedition, and the two completed their successful assault after spending a perilous night on the mountain at 27,900 feet.
Hillary’s tribute is included in the The Ethics Alarms Heroes’ Hall Of Honor, but for several years had been unavailable, unbeknownst to me, because I hadn’t connected some dots. The essay about him was a link to my 2008 post on the predecessor of Ethics Alarms, The Ethics Scoreboard, which was offline. I had forgotten that (and if anyone tried to access the article and failed, they never let me know), so the first Ethics Hero to be awarded that Ethics Hero Emeritus title was also the only such hero dishonored by my carelessness.
I apologize, Sir Edmund.
The Ethics Scoreboard is back online (and worth a visit), but I am finally putting the 2008 piece here, on Ethics Alarms, where it should have been long ago.
Ethics Hero Emeritus: Sir Edmund Hillary 1919-2008
Kwame Anthony Appiah, the current author of the Times Magazine “The Ethicist” column and the first proprietor who is an actual ethicist, devoted a whole column this weekend to exploring a variant on the duty to rescue, via this question, which I have redacted a bit (you can read the whole question here), from “Laura”:
I went to a bar that was playing live music and sat at a table very close to the band. A young woman noticed an empty seat at our table and asked if she could join us. She was friendly, intelligent and also clearly drunk, slurring words and feeling no pain. She came in alone.
Right beside her was a musician in the band. He wasn’t needed in all the songs, so he was free to chat quite a bit, and you could see there was chemistry between him and Kim, but they had not met before. Kim left to use the restroom and when she returned, the musician was with her, carrying her drink. Around 11 p.m., my companion and I were ready to call it a night. We said our goodbyes and left. I’ve thought a lot about if I should have done something. Perhaps it’s because of #MeToo,but I felt uncomfortable leaving Kim there so drunk and alone. Should I have said something to the bartenders? They were so busy and not really able to watch over the customers. I would like to think that under normal circumstances they would have made sure she got in an Uber by herself (and not with a stranger), or at least would have made sure she didn’t leave with someone against her will. But was she too drunk to give consent? Should I have said something to her, like, “Are you going to be O.K. getting home?” She didn’t appear to be anywhere close to wanting to go home. she was of legal age. Should I have said something to the musician, who seemed like a decent man? have allowed myself the fantasy that he knew she was drunk, made sure she got home safely and did not take advantage of her, but instead took her phone number and checked on her the next day. What was the right thing for me to do in this situation?
1. Why is Alex Rodriguez on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcasting team? I’m watching the game (Boston at Houston), and I’m wondering, “There weren’t any ex-players who weren’t suspended for a full season for cheating with PED’s (banned performance enhancing drugs)? There aren’t any ex-players who didn’t repeatedly lie to fans and sportswriters, and generally behave like a loathsome creep both on and off the field?”
Rodriguez will be up for membership in the Hall of Fame shortly, and he falls so short of the minimal requirements of the museum’s character clause that if it were a contest between A-Rod and Barry Bonds, Bonds would win in a landslide, and his election would provoke a major protest among living Hall members.
What kind of values does employing Rodriguez convey to kid viewing the game? What does it say about ESPN’s values, or Disney’s, its parent? Why does Major League Baseball allow a sociopath like A-Rod to represent the game on television?
2. And you thought Trump was a raging narcissist…Maureen Dowd has a damning column about Barack Obama that she muffles with equivocation, perhaps out of fear that Times readers can’t handle the truth, just like they can’t handle the results of Presidential elections. Some excerpts…
Shortly after Donald Trump was elected, Rhodes writes in his new book, “The World as It Is,” Obama asked his aides, “What if we were wrong?”But in his next breath, the president made it clear that what he meant was: What if we were wrong in being so right? What if we were too good for these people? “Maybe we pushed too far,” the president continued. “Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”
This from the most tribe-obsessed, intentionally divisive U.S. President in memory.
“Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early,” Obama mused to aides. We just weren’t ready for his amazing awesomeness.
Ack. Gag. Obama was a largely incompetent President and ineffectual leader, and yet he accepts no accountability whatsoever. His failures were everyone else’s fault. Yecchh. The man’s character is as offensive as Trump’s, just different.
“I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should have seen it coming,” Rhodes writes about the “darkness” that enveloped him when he saw the electoral map turn red. “Because when you distilled it, stripped out the racism and misogyny, we’d run against Hillary eight years ago with the same message Trump had used: She’s part of a corrupt establishment that can’t be trusted to change.”
Bad time to figure that out.
Ya think? Especially since Obama ‘s administration was corrupt itself, as Hillary’s prominent role in it amply demonstrated.
Obama did not like persuading people to do what they didn’t want to do. And that is the definition of politics. He wanted them simply to do what he had ascertained to be right. President Obama could be deliberative, reticent and cautious to a fault, which spurred an appetite for a more impulsive, visceral, hurly-burly successor.
Translation: Obama was weak, and Americans prefer strong Presidents. He paved the way for Trump. And he doesn’t understand at all, because his courtiers and the suck-up news media would only tell him that he was wonderful…for eight years. Continue reading →
Now the flight attendant is saying that she didn’t know that there was a live animal in the bag. Right.
No, I am reopening the blog, which I thought was finished for the night, to condemn the owner of the dog and every single passenger who was aware of what was going on. I am usually dubious about those who second guess bystanders who don’t interject themselves into abusive situations, but in this case, I am shocked and disgusted that no one, including the owner, made a firm stand against this obvious animal cruelty. Passengers were tweeting about how horrible it was that the puppy was being stuffed in the overhead bin. Barking could be heard during the flight. Yet not one person on board had the courage, integrity and character to stand up and forbid this abuse.
“I sat behind the family of three and thought myself lucky – who doesn’t when they get to sit near a puppy? However, the flight attendants of flight UA1284 felt that the innocent animal was better off crammed inside the overhead container without air and water. They INSISTED that the puppy be locked up for three hours without any kind of airflow. They assured the safety of the family’s pet so wearily, the mother agreed.
There was no sound as we landed and opened his kennel. There was no movement as his family called his name. I held her baby as the mother attempted to resuscitate their 10 month old puppy. I cried with them three minutes later as she sobbed over his lifeless body. My heart broke with theirs as I realized he was gone.”
Forget the virtue-signaling: I’m not impressed with your broken heart. Why didn’t you protest? Why didn’t you, or someone, call 911 and tell the police that someone was torturing a dog on a United flight? Why didn’t you stop what you knew was wrong?Continue reading →
I haven’t been in tip-top shape the last several days, making new posts more of an ordeal than they should be. Luckily this motivates me to catch up on updating the Rationalizations List, which has several waiting additions, including these:
Rationalization #15 A. The Reverse 15, or “If I don’t do it ( and I don’t want to) somebody else will.”
The Reverse 15 uses exactly the same excuse as #15. The Futility Illusion: “If I don’t do it, somebody else will,” but for the opposite purpose. In #15, the rationalizer wants to avoid the consequences of doing something unethical by arguing that his or her refusal to follow orders would have no practical effect: someone else would just step in and do what was demanded anyway. How, asks the fictionalized version of Confederate Captain Henry Wirz in “The Andersonville Trial,” can a post-Civil War military tribunal fairly hold him responsible for cruelly mistreating the Union prisoners in the Georgia prison camp as he was ordered to, when if he refused he would have been shot, and his successor would have abused them anyway?
In 15A, the argument is the opposite. The rationalizer refuses to perform a necessary ethical act out of apathy, callousness or fear, but this was reasonable because he or she was certain that someone else would do the right thing instead. The Reverse 15 could also be called “The Kitty Genovese Rationalization,” recalling that the many people who heard the murdered woman’s screams chose not to “get involves” while convincing themselves that someone would come to her aid. All of the Mount Everest climbers who left a stricken colleague behind to die protested later that they were certain the next climber behind them (or the next, perhaps) would stop to help the man. We pass a stopped car in distress on the highway at night, reasoning that someone else will stop to help, sparing us the trouble.
Sometimes someone does. Sometimes not. This abdication of an ethical duty is accomplished by casting one’s lot, and gambling with the fate of another, while relying on the unpredictable quirks of moral luck. The only ethical decision is to take action. You must do what you know is the ethical act yourself, and not ignore your obligation because you can pass the buck and then argue, disingenuously, “How could I know that everyone else would be as unethical as I am?”
Rationalization #1B. The Psychic Historian, or “I’m On The Right Side Of History”
Responding to Pennagain’s comment, now a Comment of the Day, on his own Comment of the Day, Mark wrote in appreciation,
“Pennagain – I am a musician, mostly classical, and I tend to think in musical terms. I love it when I encounter something non-musical that is “symphonic” in its scope. Your response to my post is positively Mahlerian and, like a Gustav Mahler symphony, it must be listened to many times with each hearing offering up new ideas, connections to old ideas, or even bringing to life something completely new.”
This is, I think, Ethics Alarms’ all-time best ever comment by a commenter on another commenter’s comment on his Comment of the Day.
This July has an unfortunate record as the first month in the blog’s history to fall so far short of the previous year’s traffic in the same month. (Last year’s July did have the political conventions pumping up interest.) However, it also has seen the most Comments of the Day for a single month ever, with many more of equal distinction. I’ll take quality over quantity every time.
I’m not sure the disconnect began with the hand-held devices, Mark. That was Phase III. I think the first part began with the invention of teenagers (as a group) in the early 50s, still “post-war” time — and “post-war” was barely “post-Depression” time, so it had been at least two decades and a full generation gone since the the good times rolled. The early 50s coincided with the installation of “labor-saving” devices which took over a lot of household chores for youngsters, not just for the housewives the companies advertised to. All of a sudden, I could keep what I earned on my paper route (though I did have to replace my own bicycle once, used, of course, after I carelessly left it in a neighbor’s driveway), mowing lawns, delivering groceries, raking (and burning) leaves, shoveling snow, sitting for the rowdy 7-year-old twins down the block. All of a sudden, we had a refrigerator in place of the ice-box, so I didn’t need to help chop ice; meat came ground so I didn’t have to cut the chunks and push them slooowly through the grinder; . . . I keep forgetting some things and remembering others, like ruining the dessert one night we had guests because I got some rock salt in the motor of the ice cream maker . . . having a clothes washing machine which got rid of most of the water so I didn’t have to help hold up the soaking wet sheets to be pinned on the lines above my head. All of a sudden, I had both privacy (my own telephone), my own music, and “free” time, however much my parents tried to fill it with after school lessons-this and lessons-that. Money and time. Time and money. It was time for friends to bump together with other pairs and bond like atoms in a molecule, becoming a “gang,” having our own things and our own things to do. Choosing our own movies, having sleep-overs, cook-outs, camp-outs, or just standin’ on the corner (“Most Happy Fella’) watchin’ all the girls/boys go by …. choices my mother had as a flapper for a very short time but in her young adulthood, not a teenager, already making the transition from one family to another.
Until I was in my 20s and living outside the US, I didn’t realize that growing away from my family (not spending most of my days with them) had not been a natural shift, and not a gradual one either. Nor was it particularly safe – a lot of new habits were acquired (smoking was mandatory, drinking less available, less so; under-exercised/over-eating — unrecognized for another generation!), and a lot of lessons were never learned properly, like working through emotion-based arguments, and almost everything about sex). By the time I left for college I was, though without realizing it, estranged from my parents — my peers and some self-appointed guides knew better than they did! — and stupid enough socially to be a total jerk. There was a missing link. So what? I let go of the past and caught up with the future. Continue reading →
My old friend Mark drops in to comment just a few times a year, but always delivers his trademark optimism, fairness, and perception. When he talks, I learned early on in our relationship, attention should be paid.. His was one of several excellent comments on the horrific episode in Cocoa Beach, where five teens stood by watching a handicapped man drown, and seemed to enjoy the sight mightily as they recorded his death on their cell phones. In response to another commenter’s query, “Are “kids” that are so disconnected that they’d do something of that magnitude rehabilitatable?”, Mark leaped k took the discussion to a related topic that I had found myself thinking about a lot while I was trapped in a lobby and two airports yesterday with nothing to do but wait and silently curse. What are electronic devices and social media obsession doing to our social skills and ability to relate to the world? At what point to we start sounding the ethics alarms…or the societal survival alarms? [ I’m going to include the last part of Mark’s earlier comment on the story, because it is a helpful introduction to the rest.]
…The natural human reaction to observe has been enhanced by our ability to record, and it now seems to be the first response in almost every situation – the more harrowing the better. I’m sure there is some personal thrill involved in being able to post the result, garnering comments and ego-gratifying oohs and aahs.
The situation in Florida is only the most horrible of them, right up there with the guy who posted pictures of himself with the corpse of his step-father, whom he had just murdered. Like everything else, this is a tiny part of a much bigger picture of who we are becoming as a culture. The 21st century ability to remain safely behind a screen while still feeling a full participant in life (Internet commenting a prime example) frees us of the necessary empathy (or simply humanity) to come from behind that screen to behave in ways that might be heroic or even civil. I have little difficulty seeing that behavior manifesting in children raised viewing life through a cell phone.
The much larger question – at least for me – remains “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s a nagging question, versions of which swirl in and around almost all the major political issues of our day and, now, into our personal dealings with one another. It is always there, but we come up with more and novel ways to avoid actually answering or acting on it. Clearly, it never occurred to these boys. Cain didn’t want to answer the question. And, I suspect, neither do we.
I carry two cell phones, absolute wonders of technology, which remain in my briefcase most of the time although I’ll take one of them with me to a picture-taking occasion. My friends grit their teeth at receiving responses to texts that are weeks old. My relationship with my cellphone(s) was cemented when I had the opportunity to whale watch off of Maui. I realized that I was so concerned about my precious iThing getting wet or falling into the water that I wasn’t watching the whales. I put the phone away and decided that watching the real world with both eyes was more interesting and that’s what I try to do. I hope sincerely that that attitude would ensure that I offer whatever aid I can in a dire situation rather than wondering what it will look like on Facebook later on. Continue reading →
Mea culpa: I am only now catching up on all of the 144 comments in the December 19 open forum. Once again, the commentariat here covered Ethics Alarms with glory.
The first Comment of the Day from that post comes from a non-U.S. commentator, one of several here, whose perspective is often contrarian but always well-stated.
Here is Andrew Wakeling’s Comment of the Day on the post on the immigration/migrant thread in the post, Open Forum Ethics III: